This past year’s political landscape has been quite tense with riots, protests, stand-outs, and demonstrations. Participants in these protests and nonviolent demonstrations were expressing their right to free speech, which is protected under the First Amendment. Unfortunately, many students across the country were restricted from participating in the aforementioned actions due to public universities infringing on freedom of speech through campus policies.
Public education, funded by taxpayers, must be free from any influence of the opinions of administrators or faculty. Our tax dollars should not go to a school to teach or promote one point of view. Rather, they must be dispassionate and promote the free discussion and cordial debate of ideas – even ideas with which the majority of students, or administration, may not agree.
To promote one point of view and censor another is infringing on the freedom of speech for those of the opposite view – the exact oppression that our founders wished to prevent when they wrote the Constitution.
The following five universities have speech code policies that restrict their students from free expression and speech:
University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst: UMass Amherst has policies on rallies and land use which restrict speech and expression. The policy regarding rallies states that students must seek university administration permission three days prior to the event so that the Student Activities and Involvement Staff can have a hand in planning the events and “avoid unforeseen issues with permits, timing, and security.” Moreover, the land use policy states rallies or protests held outdoors during class hours are restricted to “the west side (main entrance) of the Student Union Building, and shall be limited to one (1) hour in length, from noon to 1:00 P.M.”
Florida State University: FSU has a policy on distribution, which limits the locations where students can distribute literature or materials and voice their opinions. This policy has been dubbed “open platform” by the university and outlines the certain locations on campus that expression can occur.
University of North Carolina (UNC) Pembroke: UNC Pembroke has a policy about when spontaneous free speech can occur. The policy states that “Individuals and groups affiliated with the university will be allowed to use the designated facilities with less notice if the vice chancellor for student affairs determines that the proposed use with notice of less than twenty-four hours would not be, to a reasonable person, objectively disruptive to the educational environment or the university’s operations.”
Kean University: Kean University has policies on distribution and demonstrations which require advance permission. The distribution and demonstrations and protest policies state that “University facilities must be reserved in advance by submitting a formal request online” and that “scheduling procedures [take] at least five (5) business days prior to the requested use.”
Oklahoma State University: OSU puts location parameters on freedom of expression for its students. Its policy states that “The extracurricular use of any scheduled university — controlled facility or area for the purpose of expression shall be preceded by a request made to an authorized designee.”
These examples illustrate how public university policies on free speech are absurdly ambiguous. They enable university administrations to arbitrarily deny students their right to free speech and therefore actively infringe upon their First Amendment rights. We ought to encourage the freedom of expression and thought – not restrain it.
Jonathan Plante is a Master of Applied Economics student at American University. He is a Media Ambassador and a State Chair for Young Americans for Liberty.